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Red beans, rice warm you from inside out

It’s OK to stray a bit from recipe for classic Creole dish

By Meredith Deeds, Star Tribune
Published: February 21, 2024, 6:05am

New Orleans is known for good food, and lots of it. No trip to the Crescent City would be complete without a taste of gumbo or jambalaya, or a big bite out of a po’boy or muffuletta sandwich. Still, no dish is as quintessentially Creole as red beans and rice.

Historically, red beans and rice was a dish made on a Monday, known as laundry day, when busy women needed a meal that could be simmered slowly, unattended, while they were scrubbing away over a steamy washboard.

You can still find red beans and rice as the Monday special in many Louisiana restaurants, but they are just as tasty any other day of the week.

There are countless ways to make a delicious bowl of this hearty bean stew, but if it doesn’t start with the “holy trinity” of onions, green bell pepper and celery, it isn’t considered authentic. I have to confess, though, that my lifelong dislike of green bell peppers has motivated me to try other options. It may be heresy to admit it, but I prefer a chopped poblano in my bean stew, even though I can feel the anger of a million Creole cooks every time I make this dish.

I feel like I can get away with it, though, because the red beans are the real star of this show. And they must be dried; canned beans just won’t hold up to the cooking time necessary to develop the proper flavor.

In the South, these beans are almost always Camellia, a New Orleans-based company known for its extreme pickiness when it comes to finding red beans that are both creamy and flavorful, two hallmark characteristics critical to the success of this dish. While you likely won’t find them in Minnesota grocery stores, they are easy to buy online. Otherwise, dried red kidney beans work well.

Sausage is another key component, with Andouille being the variety of choice. You can find it in most grocery stores, but kielbasa is a good substitute if you’re having trouble locating Andouille.

Tasso ham, a smoked, spiced Louisiana specialty, is also often used. To mimic some of its flavor, I start the dish out with finely chopped bacon and add a touch of smoked paprika along the way. Could you use ham hocks or even smoked turkey wings or legs? Absolutely. I prefer the flavor of bacon a bit more, but I’ve made it with a variety of other meats and it’s always good.

All you need to complete the dish is cooked white rice and a sprinkling of sliced green onions.

But one last thing: You can’t serve red beans and rice without a bottle of hot sauce on the table. We Northerners aren’t known for our love of spicy food, but the added acidity gives this dish an extra flavor boost, and a little fire in the middle of a Minnesota winter — even this one — is a good thing.

Red Beans and Rice

Serves 6 to 8.

Note: Rich, smoky and hearty, this classic Creole dish will keep you warm from the inside out. If andouille sausage is not available, feel free to substitute kielbasa. This recipe must be prepared in advance. From Meredith Deeds.

16 oz. dried red kidney or small red beans, rinsed and picked over

3 slices bacon, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 medium green bell pepper or poblano, seeded and finely chopped

1 rib celery, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 bay leaves

1 tsp. smoked paprika

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

½ tsp. dried thyme

¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

2 c. chicken stock

12 oz. andouille sausage, halved lengthwise and cut into ¼-in. slices (see Note)

1 tsp. cider vinegar

6 c. cooked white rice

3 scallions, white and green parts, sliced thin

Hot sauce, optional

In a large bowl, soak beans in 3 quarts of water at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. Drain.

Heat bacon in large Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and almost fully rendered, 5 to 8 minutes. Add onion, green pepper and celery; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, bay leaves, smoked paprika, salt, black pepper, thyme and cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in drained beans, chicken stock, and 8 cups water; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are just soft and liquid begins to thicken, about 45 to 60 minutes.

Stir in sausage and vinegar and cook until liquid is thick and creamy and beans are tender, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and black pepper, if desired. Serve over rice, sprinkling with scallions and passing hot sauce separately, if desired.